As a child, Charles Ives was surrounded by music, sacred, secular and experimental; it is the memory of these sounds that forms the core of Ives's output. In his music, Ives relived an idealized time this ideal time, and reminisced about his father, George, a civil war bandleader with a bent for the experimental. Ives's father was a classic New England figure, a hard-scrabble experimenter with rough opinions on all subjects. In Ives' music, one can hear buried the strains of old hymn tunes, marches, his father's experiments, snatches of Beethoven, popular song, bells, drumbeats and more. In a way Ives created an entire musical language made from other "tunes" filtered through his memory. Particularly in his orchestral works it sometimes seems as though the entire kitchen sink has been thrown into the composition; for Ives, creating a symphony was the same as creating, or recreating, a world.
The musical language of the work can often be thought of as a tapestry of these various childhood influences. Brief phrases from patriotic tunes such as "Columbia, the Gem of the Ocean" and "The Battle Cry of Freedom" are ubiquitous. Even in the Impressionistic musical language of the song Tom Sails Away, he references popular music: George M. Cohan's World War One anthem "Over There"
Musical experiments also lie at the core of Ives's music. During his childhood in Danbury, Connecticut, his father would ask him and his sister to sing hymns harmonized with microtones (intervals smaller than the smallest interval on the piano). More outlandishly, one experiment involved two amateur marching bands. In order to see what the resulting sound would be, Ives's father asked the two marching bands to march through each other while playing different marches. These childhood memories developed a keen musical ear for dissonance and left a long shadow on Ives' future development.
Ives' music was barely played while he was still composing; he made most of his money as a successful insurance executive and composed only on nights and weekends. After heart problems got the best of him, Ives gave up composing all together. "Tom Sails Away," a setting of Ives' own words was written in direct response to World War One. Throughout the song, Ives illustrates each tiny prosaic aspect of the text with new musical material.
Tom Sails Away (1917)
Scenes from my childhood are with me,
I'm in the lot behind our house upon the hill,
a spring day's sun is setting,
mother with Tom in her arms
is coming towards the garden;
the lettuce rows are showing green.
Thinner grows the smoke o'er the town,
stronger comes the breeze from the ridge,
'Tis after six, the whistles have blown,
the milk train's gone down the valley.
Daddy is coming up the hill from the mill,
We run down the lane to meet him
In freedom's cause Tom sailed away
for over there, over there, over there!
Scenes from my childhood are floating before my eyes.
|0:00||Introduction; A||Polytonal and strong opening chords, perhaps based on "My Country 'Tis of Thee" at (:45) trombones enter with opening strains of "The Shining Shore"|
|3:36||A triumphant-type tune enters in the strings, activity increases, building to a climax that never really comes and eventually dissipates to|
|5:40||Quiet bells alert transition to|
|6:40||B||Oboe and flute present "The Shining Shore" over atmosphere of quiet bells|
|7:18||Fantasy on "the Shining Shore" continues in strings over rocking in the lower strings and piano chords.|
|8:30||C||Strings present hoe-down style variation of "Arlington" ("Am I a soldier of the cross?...)|
|9:13||B||A return to the quietness of "The Shining Shore"|
|11:00||Transition to||Trouble arises, the orchestra gets louder, the rocking motive takes over the entire orchestra|
|12:48||D||Chorus enters with "Duke Street" to accompaniment of full orchestra and bells: a seeming apotheosis.|
|13:50||Coda (?)||Strings resurrect original polytonal chords to accompaniment of bells, orchestra fades out.|